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EEES Program Guidelines

Advisory committee

The Advisory Committee (AC) is core to student training within EEES. The AC provides customized attention and guidance to each student. The committee should be composed of the student’s dissertation advisor and two additional EEES faculty members. AC members can remain stable or change during the student’s degree to provide expertise that maximally benefits the student. New graduate students should select and meet with their advisory committee early in their first term in the program.

The AC works with the student to define a compelling research area, design a tailored plan to build expertise in defined areas, plan a schedule for the thesis proposal and qualifying exam, discuss career planning, and oversee the development of the thesis proposal, thesis progress, and thesis preparation.

Composition of the AC

The AC consists of 3 members:  the advisor plus two other EEES faculty. Changes in the AC are welcome as student research plans develop. This can be arranged by discussion with the advisor, the original advisory committee, and the proposed new member(s) and/or EEES program co-chairs. These changes should be described in a letter that is signed by the student, current AC members, and new AC members. The AC can include more than 3 EEES faculty.

  • For the qualifying exam, an external member and a 4th EEES faculty member joins the AC.
  • For the dissertation defense, an external member joins the AC.
  • A student may choose to have the same external member for both the qualifying exam and the dissertation defense or may have different external members for each of these processes. Regardless, external committee members should be chosen in consultation with the AC.

Responsibilities of the student to the AC

  • Schedule meetings with the AC; provide summaries of academic progress and plans for each meeting; draft letters to the EEES leadership describing the points raised/decisions made at each meeting, and submit this letter (including student and AC members’ signatures) to their EEES file after each meeting.
  • Prepare for and schedule the research proposal defense and qualifying exam for advancement to candidacy; discuss requirements for the research proposal and qualifying exam with the committee; and submit a letter to their EEES file (including student’s and qualifying exam committee members’ signatures) describing the outcome of the Qualifying exam.
  • Be prepared for meetings and exams and respond to committee recommendations for changes in thesis plans (either by modifications or justifications satisfactory to the committee).

Responsibilities of the AC to the student

  • Evaluate information provided by the student regarding research plans; provide feedback about a suitable research schedule; recommend appropriate courses to take and to TA; review and revise with the student all letters covering AC meetings; communicate constructive suggestions clearly.
  • Evaluate the research proposal and proposal defense, and provide oral or written feedback to the student following the proposal defense. See EEES Proposal Defense Report Template.
  • Identify, with the student, two focal areas of study for the qualifying exam; advise the student of individual requirements for the qualifying exam that are not covered in the general guidelines; evaluate the student’s performance on the exam, and provide oral or written feedback and professional recommendations to the student following exam.
  • Review and evaluate thesis progress and overall career plan; evaluate the thesis defense, and provide written or oral feedback on the thesis and defense.

Conflict Resolution

The committee-based system for guiding graduate programs in EEES, while primarily designed to ensure effective mentoring, is also intended to guard against inequitable treatment. In the event that conflicts arise, we recommend the following stepwise process for resolution.  In general, conflicts are best resolved within the advisory committee. However, when resolution within the advisory committee is not feasible or successful, consult with one of the current or past chairs of the EEES program.  When this is not feasible or successful, the Graduate Office is the next place to turn. The EEES program guarantees access to an established process by which student grievances will be investigated fully and fairly, treated confidentially and decisions rendered in a timely manner.

Suggested actions

  1.  When possible, speak directly to the person who bears responsibility for the complaint or who is the alleged cause of the complaint.
  2. Speak to the graduate adviser and/or members of the thesis or advisory committee.
  3. Speak to the Chair, Associate Chair, or a Past Chair of the EEES graduate program. At present, Matt Ayres, Michael Cox, and Laura Ogden are the Chair, Associate Chair, and Past Chair of EEES.
  4. If a satisfactory resolution can not be reached within the EEES program, the aggrieved student may request a meeting with the Dean of Graduate Studies to discuss the issue.
  5. If the Dean, working together with the aggrieved student and appropriate faculty member(s), or representatives of the EEES program is unable to reach a satisfactory resolution, the student can request in writing a formal hearing and ruling by the Dean of Graduate Studies and the Committee on Student Grievances. Formal hearings are conducted as described in the Graduate Handbook (see sections titled “Committee on Student Grievances” and “Formal Hearing” under Academic and Conduct Regulations).

Please note that allegations of scientific misconduct, violations of the academic honor principle, and certain issues of professional and personal conduct (sexual harassment, discrimination, and others described in the graduate handbook under code of conduct – non-academic regulations) must be reported to and handled by the Graduate Office.


Research proposal

One of the two steps for an EEES graduate student to advance to Ph.D. candidacy is for the student to develop and successfully defend a written proposal of their anticipated dissertation. To complete this requirement, a student must give a public presentation of their proposed research (generally at EEES Lunch), followed by a private meeting with the student’s committee. The student should provide a reasonably well-argued defense of the future thesis project. It is expected that the actual dissertation will evolve as the student progresses.

The proposal should develop a theoretically compelling, logically cohesive and logistically feasible line of research that would constitute a dissertation if completed. Students are encouraged to work with their committee on the structure of the proposal. The committee has full latitude in determining details of the proposal requirement. A good target is for students to write their proposal with format and style that matches a potential funding source to whom the proposal can be submitted. A generic structure is as follows:

  • The proposal should be comprised a one-page Project Summary followed by an eight-page Project Description (including figures and tables), followed by references and supporting information if relevant.
  • The document should be single-spaced in 11-12 point font.
  • The Project Description should include an introduction, statement of significance, specific research plan, statement of feasibility, schedule/timeline (including specific papers that are projected to result), and Bibliography.
  • The research proposal should be submitted to the members of the student’s advisory committee at least 10 days prior to the presentation.

After the presentation and oral defense, the committee will respond by indicating one of the following outcomes: pass, pass with minor revisions, or revise and re-present. Decision of the committee is based on a majority vote, and should be reported in a letter for the student file’s that is written by the committee and signed by the student. See EEES Proposal Defense Report Template

The proposal defense can occur before or after the Qualifying Exam. Discuss it with your committee and determine which order is best for you. Advancement to Candidacy (e.g., for the purposes of being eligible to apply for a Dissertation Improvement Grant with NSF) requires successful completion of both the proposal defense and the qualifying exam. The Qualifying Exam but not the Proposal Defense requires the participation of an outside examiner. However, the outside examiner is a welcome member of the committee that evaluates the Proposal Defense, and all students are encouraged to share their proposal (or an outline of it if not yet completed) with their outside examiner in advance of the Qualifying Exam

Qualifying Exam

This is an evaluation of students’ overall competence in either the EEB or the SEE track, both within and outside of their specific research area, with both written and oral components. The qualifying exam committee responds with a written evaluation, indicating one of the following: pass, pass with remedial work, or fail. The committee will summarize their comments, suggestions and requirements for remedial/additional work. See EEES Qualifying Exam Report Template. Students who fail may be allowed to retake the exam once. A pass is required to continue with the program. See Guidelines and suggestions for the Qualifying Exam. See sample focal areas and questions for written qualifying exams in the EEB track and the SEE track. Participation of the external committee member can be by Skype or equivalent if necessary, but we encourage students to identify their outside examiner and arrange with them well in advance so that they are able to participate in person (ideally in association with giving a research seminar and meeting with other graduate students, postdocs, and faculty within EEES). Funding is generally available from EEES for the travel costs of outside committee members.

Advancement to Candidacy

Advancement to candidacy requires successful completion of two components: 1) the proposal defense and 2) the qualifying exam. Failure to advance to candidacy by the end of Year 3 will result in termination of the program unless there is (1) unanimous support for an extension from all members of the advisory committee and (2) an explicit, realistic schedule for completing all remaining requirements of the graduate program.

Dissertation and dissertation defense

Candidates present a public presentation of research, followed by a private meeting with the thesis committee. The final revision of the dissertation must be submitted to committee members a minimum of one week prior to the defense; committees may require a longer period. Students must arrange scheduling of the defense with the committee prior to making any final arrangements with outside examiners. The thesis committee will indicate one of the following: dissertation approved, approved with minor revision, requiring major revisions, or fail. If major revisions are required, the committee will provide a summary of the main comments and requirements, and a schedule for revisions and completion of the degree. See EEES Thesis Defense Report Template.

Content and format of the thesis should be planned in consultation with the Thesis Committee. The thesis is normally written in the form of manuscripts, which may be published, accepted for publication, submitted or in draft. Early publication of part of the thesis work (prior to thesis completion) is strongly recommended; indeed, having papers that are published or in press before the thesis defense is necessary to be competitive for the best post-doctoral opportunities. Students should be certain that their theses conform to Dartmouth College requirements for format (fonts, margins, numbering, etc.); see Office of Graduate Studies for College specifications (link to Grad Studies).

Schedule guidelines

The scheduling of each student’s program is arranged with the advisory committee. Each student should arrange a meeting of their advisory committee during the fall and spring of their first year. Subsequent to that, individual schedules may differ (e.g., the order of the proposal defense and qualifying exam is at the discretion of the advisory committee), but the following guidelines are recommended:

  1. Meet with Advisory Committee: Twice during Year 1 and at least yearly thereafter
  2. Submit and defend Research Proposal: Spring of Year 2 or Fall of Year 3
  3. Completion of Qualifying Exam: Spring of Year 2 or Fall of Year 3
  4. Advancement to Candidacy (2 components) by end of Year 3:
  5. Dissertation submission and defense: By end of Year 5
  6. Completion of all degree requirements: By end of Year 5

In addition to these major milestones, each student prepares an annual progress report for review by program faculty. No financial support is guaranteed beyond the fifth year.

Master of Science Degree

The Graduate Program in Ecology, Evolution, Environment and Society is a Dartmouth graduate program. Students are accepted for the PhD degree only; there is no Master’s program. With the support of their Advisory Committee, graduate students may be granted an M.S. in lieu of completing a Ph.D. To be eligible, students shall complete a written Master’s thesis that is approved by the Advisory Committee.


Formal coursework is a modest component of the EEES graduate program but plays a key role in helping students gain a solid foundation in their respective track writ large and a mastery of areas related to his/her field of specialty. The interdisciplinary fields covered by EEES are vast and fast growing, so the coursework is designed to provide the background and skills for a lifetime of continuing self-directed learning. By itself, coursework cannot provide the depth and breadth of knowledge successful graduate students will need.

Core courses:

Students in both tracks of EEES take two Foundations course, two methods courses, participate in a common weekly research colloquium (EEES Lunches, EEESLs) and mentored teaching experiences, and participate in seminars and discussions with visiting scientists. Most students also take a few other electives from an evolving list of options, which can include short courses taught elsewhere.

EEES 133. Foundations in Ecology
EEES 135. Foundations in Ecosystems & Society
EEES 169. Mentored Teaching Experience
EEES 266. Research Colloquium (EEES-Lunch) – during fall, winter and spring quarters
EEES seminars with invited speakers from outside Dartmouth
Two methods courses, such as EEES 128-129. Theory and Practice of Statistics 1 & 2
See here for a current schedule of courses


A schedule for completing the core curriculum should be approved by the Advisory Committee. Core courses should be completed as soon as possible after matriculation. Proficiency is expected at the time of the qualifying exam. When students enter the program with demonstrable proficiency in relevant subject areas exceptions to the core curriculum are possible with the written approval of the Advisory Committee.

Additional coursework electives (see here for a current schedulewill be determined through consultation among the student, advisor, and student’s Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee makes the final decision on what is required for each student to complete the EEES course requirement. Students should be sure that all decisions on coursework are explicitly recorded in the letters that summarize committee meetings. The options for graduate course electives are diverse, dynamic, and driven by the interests of current students. Students find many attractive options for coursework electives during a Ph.D. program and are encouraged to choose judiciously. There is no need to complete electives early in the program. Course offerings are not intended to serve as sufficient preparation for comprehensive exams.  We encourage all students to be proactive in considering what kinds of courses would be most beneficial and lobbying their advisors and appropriate faculty to make them happen. To identify appropriate elective courses, talk to your advisor, committee members, colleagues, and other faculty. Seek out short courses and opportunities at field stations appropriate to your field, such as the Fundamentals of Ecosystem Ecology at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies. Finally, students who have advanced to candidacy are encouraged to organize and lead their own graduate seminar course (e.g., BIOL 152).

Funding to participate in a course at another institution may be available from the EEES Research and Professional Development Fund. To apply for an EEES Course Award of up to $2,000, obtain the support of your Advisory Committee and provide the following to the EEES Chairs: (1) a description of the course, (2) your costs to participate in the course, (3) a current CV, and (4) a brief description of where you are in your PhD work and how this course will help you. Immediately after the course, successful applicants will provide a synopsis of the experience that highlights the professional benefits (see EEES student news to learn about the experiences of your colleagues).

Students should receive at least a pass (P or HP) in all coursework to maintain satisfactory standing in the graduate program. One low pass or no credit (LP or NC) triggers a meeting of the advisory or thesis committee to prescribe appropriate remedies; in this case, the probationary status and remedial prescription should be explicitly described in a letter for the student’s file that is signed by the committee and student. A second low pass or no credit will place a student on academic probation or result in termination of the graduate program (at the discretion of the advisory committee).

All members of the EEES graduate program participate in a weekly Research Colloquium, EEES Lunch. Graduate students should register for this each term as 1 credit of EEES/BIOL 266. Each student is expected to make a presentation in this colloquium at least once per year. This should be accompanied by a committee meeting to solicit feedback and counsel.

During academic terms that include responsibilities as a Teaching Assistant (TA), students should register for 1 credit of EEES/BIOL 169.

During each term (Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer), all graduate students should be enrolled for at least 3 credits. This can include 1-3 credits for Graduate Research (EEES/BIOL 197, 198, and 199 correspond to 1, 2, or 3 research credits for students who have not yet advanced to candidacy; EEES/BIOL 297, 298, 299 correspond to 1, 2, or 3 research credits for students who have advanced to candidacy).

Students who will be off-campus during a term as TAs for BIO FSP, ENVS FSP, or ANTH FSP, should enroll for one or two credits of supervised teaching (EEES/BIOL 169) depending on whether the TA assignment is for a full academic quarter or a half quarter. Then students should complete their three credits for the term with (at their discretion) one credit of graduate research (EEES/BIOL 197 or 297) and/or one credit chosen from among any one of the three FSP courses that they are helping to teach:  presently BIOL 55, 56, or 57 for Bio FSP; ENVS 40, 42, or 84 for Envs FSP; and  ANTH 51, 52, or 54 for Anth FSP. Courses with numbers less than 100 (e.g., FSP courses) might not be accessible via online registration; in this case, contact the Graduate Studies Registrar (presently Gary Hutchins) at Graduate Studies by email and they can register you.

Cross-listed courses. Numerous courses within the EEES curriculum are cross-listed in EEES and Biology (e.g., EEESLs are both EEES 266 and BIOL 266). When this is true, you can register for whichever you want. The distinction between EEES and Biol listings do not matter to your program and will almost certainly never matter to your life but they will appear as you choose on your transcripts.

Extramural funding proposals

The proposal presented to the EEES program should be one of numerous proposals that are developed and submitted during the graduate program. Graduate students at all stages should be aggressive in identifying funding sources and submitting proposals. Virtually all professional positions after the Ph.D. depend upon successful grantsmanship. Demonstrated success in securing grants is key to getting a good job. Strive to develop a Curriculum Vitae that includes a section titled “Grants received”. Note that the professional benefits of being awarded a grant exceed the dollars received. Consider writing proposals even for a few hundred dollars. Some funding opportunities for EEES students are listed hereOpens in a new window, but there are many other small, local, or specialized opportunities.

EEES graduate group activities

The Cramer Seminar Series usually Fridays at 4 pm in Life Sciences Center, are generally given by speakers from other institutions. See Cramer seminar online schedule.  Graduate students are expected to attend. Ecology and evolution graduate students are encouraged to invite seminar speakers.  A priority of the Cramer Seminar Series is to facilitate visits by leading scholars from around the world to participate in the qualifying examinations and thesis defenses of graduate students.  However, scheduling is first-come, first-serve so graduate students should plan far enough ahead (several months at least) to make sure a seminar slot is available for their guests.  Besides attending the seminars, graduate students are strongly encouraged to meet with all ecology and evolution visitors (an excellent opportunity to solicit feedback on your research). The host (faculty or graduate student) has responsibility for scheduling individual and group meetings for visitors.  Please contact the organizer of the seminar series, Eric Schaller, for more information

The Chris Reed Memorial Lecture is in honor of Dr. Christopher G. Reed, a distinguished professor at Dartmouth who passed away in 1990. Dr. Reed held a strong belief in the importance of education through teaching, research, and mentoring. In honor of Dr. Reed, the Graduate Students of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College annually select and invite a distinguished scholar who exemplifies the ideals to which Dr. Reed was so committed. As part of the visit, the Chris Reed Scholar gives a lecture of broad interest to graduate students and is also open to the public. Additionally, the visiting scholar normally stays in Hanover for two or three days as our guest to visit the area and interact with Dartmouth graduate students in the spirit of Professor Reed. Chris Reed scholars have included: William Provine, Bruce Levin, Pierre Beguin, David Wake, Naomi Cappuccino, James Crow, Peter and Rosemary Grant, Richard Lewontin, and Douglas Futuyma. Please note that the Chris Reed seminar depends upon graduate student body taking the initiative to choose a speaker, extend the invitation, and arrange suitable dates.  This normally requires that there be a couple of graduate students who volunteer to organize the process.  If you have not heard anything about it this year, it is probably because no one is in charge and there is a need for someone like you to step up and make it happen.  Previous organizers are always pleased to provide suggestions on the logistics.  The Chris Reed lecture is for graduate students from the full Department of Biological Sciences including those in EEES and MCB.  The ideal guest is one who will be of broad interest to all graduate students.  The process for choosing a speaker normally involves soliciting nominations from all graduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences (MCB and EEES), then having a group discussion to choose a ranked list of two or three candidates.  The best candidates tend to have busy schedules so it is best to choose candidates and proffer the invitation 6 – 18 months in advance.   Faculty can provide examples of previous letters of invitation, schedules, advertisements and press releases, etc.   Please consult with the organizer of the Cramer Seminar Series, regarding suitable dates.

Other Seminar series that may be of interest to EEES students include:

The George E. Link Environmental Awareness Lecture (link)

The Geography Speaker Series (Geography Dept. link)

Besides attending the seminars, graduate students are strongly encouraged to meet with all EEES visitors (an excellent opportunity to solicit feedback on your research). The host (faculty or graduate student) has responsibility for scheduling individual and group meetings for visitors.

EEES Lunch is a weekly “in-house” seminar, and is the usual format for presentation of research proposals and research results (other than the thesis defense). The content and format of EEES lunch may vary from term to term (see online schedule). Attendance at and participation in EEES lunch is expected for all students throughout their time in the program. Students should register for EEES lunch as EEES 266, Graduate Research Colloquium in Biological Sciences.

A Journal Club is run by the EEES graduate students for EEES graduate students.  Faculty involvement is by invitation only.  Details are available from current EEES graduate students.

The EEES Retreat is held annually, early in the Fall term. The venue varies but is usually off-campus (e.g., The Class of 66 Lodge) and often includes an overnight stay. Topics of discussion vary from year-to-year and may include current issues or controversies in ecology and evolution, or faculty and graduate student long-term research plans. The structure and topics are determined by a rotating committee of graduate students (and sometimes faculty), at least one of whom should be a returning graduate student committee member. The committee welcomes and solicits suggestions from everyone in the program (graduate students, post-docs, and faculty) regarding the structure and content of EEES Retreat. Make sure you reserve the retreat dates on your calendar.

Informal discussion and reading groups are regularly formed by faculty and students. Typically, some of the most valuable feedback on thesis research and other ideas are the result of informal discussions and presentations organized by graduate students. There are no rules. Talk to faculty, post-docs, and/or other graduate students for suggestions about how to implement work groups that will be fun and productive. We strongly encourage all students to organize one or more work groups during their time in the program.

Teaching responsibilities

All graduate students have responsibilities as teaching assistants (TAs). Description of expectations for EEES TAs here.

Students supported by Dartmouth stipends will normally TA two ten-week (quarter) courses per year. Students supported by research grants (awarded to faculty or students) will sometimes TA fewer courses (e.g., 1 course per year). Courses with TAs will usually be lab courses and require an average of about 20 hrs per week of work for the 10-week term (except for FSP programs, which are full time). Students should register for 1 credit of EEES/BIOL 169, during each term that they are a TA.

Students may request to TA one of the foreign study programs (FSP) associated with the EEES faculty. These include the Biology program to Costa Rica, the Environmental Studies program to Southern Africa, and the Anthropology program to New Zealand. Each program offers a unique and immersive field experience for the undergraduate students as well as the TAs and faculty involved.

Students graduating with a Ph.D. in EEES from Dartmouth College are expected to be skilled educators who are ready to design and teach their own successful courses in any institute of higher education. Applications for tenure-track faculty positions usually request a statement of teaching interests; demonstrated teaching abilities and sophisticated educational philosophies are important or essential for most faculty jobs. Working with Dartmouth faculty as a TA is the main vehicle for providing this training. Students should strive to make full use of these opportunities to cultivate and refine their pedagogy.

Stipend and research funding

Support may be from externally funded fellowships, Dartmouth stipends or faculty research grants. Students are accepted into the program only if funds are available for stipend support. Applicants to the program are encouraged to apply for fellowships. Early in the graduate program, many students remain eligible for NSF Fellowships. Students are expected to make strong applications for fellowship support and independent research support, e.g. to NSF for Dissertation Improvement Grants. Extramural support reduces financial limitations and enhances your curriculum vitae. Proposal writing is valuable experience even if not funded.

Professional Meetings

Students are encouraged to seize every opportunity to attend professional meetings, small and large, at all stages of their program. Benefits of attending meetings include: motivating a flurry of professional productivity while you prepare for your talk or poster; gaining critical feedback on your research from an audience that can include those who will reviewer your papers; learning about the current state of research in the area to which your dissertation should contribute; learning about current research in diverse fields, some of which will be unexpectedly relevant to your research; meeting interesting people with similar interests – including prospective post-doctoral mentors and future colleagues; developing a favorable professional reputation that can beget beneficial opportunities such as reviewing papers, giving invited seminars, getting a job, etc.; being stimulated to go back to your research with a fresh perspective and renewed enthusiasm. Talk to your peers and advisors to learn about the various meeting that could be appropriate. Begin planning for them many months ahead of time so that they are maximally beneficial. Cooperate with your colleagues in preparation – e.g., by giving practice talks to each other. Your discretionary Cramer funds are one source of funding to attend meetings.  Funding is also sometimes available from the Office of Graduate Studies (link). Talk to your advisor and be creative in finding ways to make meetings affordable.